Woodcut print artist Naoki Takenouchi was busy carving Buddha images on a wooden board in a Park Hotel Tokyo room in November. Known for his works on traditional Japanese “washi” paper, he was working to turn the entire guest room into a work of art.
Dynamic patterns on the walls portraying the god of wind “Fujin” and the god of thunder “Raijin” were painted with bare hands dipped in “sumi” ink. The Buddha images he was engraving on the board were waiting to be printed on washi and placed among the patterns on the walls.
“I hope guests staying in this room will immerse themselves in Japan, something like the world of sumi and washi. That’s the main purpose, basically,” said Takenouchi, 67, who was born in Kagoshima Prefecture.
His work is part of the Park Hotel Tokyo’s unique “Artist in Hotel” project, an adaptation of the well known “Artist-In-Residence” program in a hotel setting, aiming at reaching out to foreign guests who are interested in Japanese aesthetics and help maximize their cultural experience in Japan. Participating artists of the project decorate the rooms with their original paintings and art based on inspiration obtained from their experiences at the hotel.
While he was staying at the hotel, Takenouchi was very impressed with the view from his room. It was an urban landscape that cannot be seen in the countryside and he started to think of creating artworks that would blend well with the spectacular view.
“I wanted my art to become something that can jump out of the window and at the same time, I wanted something from the outside to enter this room as well,” said Takenouchi, referring to the images of Fujin and Raijin. “I express that idea with abstract images of weather phenomena such as wind, omitting personified depiction of the gods,” the artist said.
The Artist Room under the theme of “Japanese Paper Garden” by Takenouchi is the third Artist Room in the hotel following the Artist Room Sumo by Hiroyuki Kimura and the Artist Room Zen by Seihaku Akiba, according to the hotel.
Although the Artist Room is designed to satisfy guests’ artistic interests, Takenouchi pointed out that the room also needs to serve as a good guest room with a calm and peaceful atmosphere.
“This is different from an ordinary art gallery. People actually sleep in this space,” he said.
Between Sept. 16 to Nov. 24, the hotel held a solo exhibition of Takenouchi’s work under the new concept of “space and time that allow visitors to feel Japanese aesthetics” in its atrium, featuring huge art installations made of washi hung in the air, as well as wearable, clotheslike creations made of washi that people could try on.
Hotel guest Lukasz Fratczak from Germany was particularly fond of the massive aerial installations.
“(They were) very nice. I liked them very much,” said Fratczak, a company employee in his 30s. He was intrigued by the contrast of their colors — the objects being mostly monochrome though brightly colored at one end.
Fratczak also said the exhibition caught his attention because he felt it was “a modern interpretation of Japanese art.”
Takenouchi often creates 3-D objects using woodcut print techniques and cooperates with people in different fields, such as the fashion industry, to utilize his ideas and products in different industries. Some of his notable collaborative works include street performances in New York, Paris and Tokyo.
The reactions of spectators and passersby were “great,” he said, referring to the New York performance.
“We were going to deliver an outdoor performance but since it was pouring outside, we went underground,” he said. “We just bought tickets and rode a subway train (and performed in front of passengers). It turned out to be more fun, I guess,” said Takenouchi, who also has an office in New York.
In the Artist Room project, Takenouchi said he aimed at presenting contemporary expressions of Japanese art using traditional materials such as washi and sumi, hoping that hotel guests, especially ones from overseas, will take notice of the modern approach in traditional art and discover its bigger potential.
“In a way, this is contemporary art . . . and I hope they will think ‘Oh, there is such a way to use these materials,’ ” said Takenouchi.